by James Thurber (1956)
A COLONY OF bats living in a great American cave had got along fine for a thousand generations, flying, hanging head down, eating insects, and raising young, and then one year a male named Flitter, who had fluttered secretly out of his room at night and flown among the haunts of men, told his father that he had decided to get the hell out. The shocked father sent Flitter to Fleder, the great-great-grandfather of all the bats in the cave.
“You should be proud of being a bat among bats,” said old Fleder, “for we are one of the oldest species on the planet, much older than Man, and the only mammal capable of true flight.”
The discontented young bat was not impressed. “I want to live like a man among men,” he said. “Men have the best food, and the most fun, and the cutest females.”
At this, old Fleder stormed about the cave, squeaking unintelligibly. Then he recovered his calm and continued his talk. “A man got into my room one night,” he said, “and managed somehow to tangle me in his hair. It was a shattering experience, from which I shall never completely recover.”
“When men die they go to Heaven, but when bats are dead they are dead,” said Flitter. “I want to go to Heaven when I die.”
This amused old Fleder in a gaunt and gloomy sort of way, and he chittered, quickered, and zickered for some moments before he could say, “You have no more soul than a moose, or a mouse, or a mole. You should be glad that you will never become an angel for angels do not have true flight. One wants to sleep through eternity, not bumble and flap about forever like a bee or a butterfly.”
But Flitter had made up his mind, and the old bat’s words of wisdom were in vain. That night, the discontented young bat quit the bat colony, and flickered out of the cave, in the confident hope of giving up his membership in the Chiroptera and joining the happy breed of men. Unfortunately for his dream, he spent his first night hanging head down from the rafters of an auditorium in which a best-selling Inspirationalist was dragging God down to the people’s level. Ushers moved silently among the rapt listeners, selling copies of the speaker’s books: Shake Hands with the Almighty, You Can Be Jehovah’s Pal and Have You Taken Out Eternity Insurance? The speaker was saying, “Have a little talk with the Lord while you’re waiting for a bus, or riding to work, or sitting in the dentist’s chair. Have comfy chats with the Lord in the little cozy corners of spare time.”
Flitter decided that there was something the matter with the acoustics, or with his tragus, caused by hanging head down in the presence of the Eternal Species, but when he began flying about the auditorium, there was no change in the nature of the English sentences. “Tell the Lord to put it there,” the inspired man went on. “Give him your duke.” The speaker waved clasped hands above his head and gazed up at the ceiling. “Keep pitching, God,” he said. “You’ve got two strikes on Satan.”
Flitter, who had never felt sick before in his life, felt sick, and decided to get the air. After he had got the air, he realized that he did not want to become a member of the species Homo sapiens, because of the danger of bumbling or flapping into the Inspirationalist after they had both become angels. And so Flitter returned to the cave, and everybody was astonished to see him, and nobody said anything, and for a time there was a great silence.
“I’ve come the hell back,” said Flitter, meekly. And he resumed, without discontent, the immemorial life of the Chiroptera, flying, hanging head down, eating insects, and raising young.
MORAL: By decent minds is he abhorred who’d make a Babbitt of the Lord.